Meet Dane: Jewish Teacher of the Week!

dane

Allie: Tell me how you found yourself in DC?

Dane: Well I have GatherDC to thank for that, more specifically Julie Thompson. She is my roommate, and my girlfriend; we share a one bedroom apartment in Columbia Heights. She sleeps in the bedroom, and I sleep on the couch. She’s the one who got me to move down here. I used to live in Baltimore and used to hate DC, but I finally came down and turns out DC is a pretty great city.

Allie: Where are you from originally?

Dane: I’m from Laurel, Maryland. It’s roughly between DC and Baltimore. Then, I went to undergrad at College Park. Living in DC is actually my first time living outside maybe a 30-mile radius. 

Allie: What inspired you to become a teacher? 

Dane: Is masochist the one where you like to hurt yourself? I just wanted to set myself up for a bad time. Kidding! 

Really, I’ve never been a big fan of school. Growing up, I had a couple of teachers that pushed me to go above the bare minimum, and it really helped me want to strive for excellence in the work I did. They paid attention, and made me feel really proud of working hard. It had a major impact on my life, and I wanted to do the same for others. So, I became a teacher.

Allie: What grade and subject do you teach?

Dane: I teach 7th grade English and 6th grade reading. I originally wanted to teach high school in New York, because I wanted to move away from this area and be on my own somewhere new. In grad school, I was placed in a middle school in the last county I wanted to be in – Howard County. They told me I would be there for one quarter and then would move to a high school. By the time that quarter was up, there were claw marks in the walls because I didn’t want to leave, and I beat down the door of that middle school when I was looking for a job. It’s such a great place to be. 

Allie: What are your favorite things about teaching?

Dane: The kids, they’re great. They are full of life, full of energy and enthusiasm – which is a blessing and a curse. High school is very grade driven, where students are constantly thinking about how to get A’s and how things will benefit them later. 

Middle school students really make me think about the purpose of what I do here: what is the meaning behind it? Why should they care? When you hit that groove it’s such a fulfilling feeling. You have a lot of freedom to make an impact and help others learn how to make an impact.

Allie: What’s the most challenging part? 

Dane: It’s a very big time commitment and it’s a very big emotional commitment. I’ve moved around to different curriculums every year I’ve been teaching, which is exhausting. You have to anticipate how things will go for the first time. Grading is ridiculous as an English teacher, and then emotionally you have kids going through the biggest changes of their lives. You have to anticipate that and work with that to help them get through it, which is worthwhile but tiring. 

Allie: Why did you choose to teach English?

Dane: My dad told me I should be an English major because I like to read and am a good writer. If I could go back I would think about science. I am not a natural scientist by any means, but I taught a sustainability course last year and it’s a really cool thing to teach. 

Allie: What is your perfect day in DC, assuming you don’t have school and have unlimited money to spend. 

Dane: I’ll wake up, feed former Jewish Cat of the Month Chloe, and then make coffee. Ideally the weather outside is low 70s – a nice, sunny day. I’ll go for a walk, and then Julie and I would go to RedRocks and sit on the patio. I’d get myself RedRocks’ hash because it’s the best breakfast food that’s ever been created. After that, I would go downtown and spend some time at the museums. I’d grab lunch at a burger joint with outdoor seating. Then, I’d find a good rooftop bar and meet up with some friends. After that, I’d go to Meridian Hill Park and watch a beautiful sunset. Then, I’d go to dinner with some friends, and be sure to crawl into bed by 9:30. 

dane

 

Allie: How do you relax after a long work day?

Dane: I like my couch. I’ll sit on the couch, close the door, and light a candle. I like to put my things away so I’m sitting in a nice clean space, and take a little bit of time to have some quiet and watch the sunset.

Allie: Do you have any resolutions for the year ahead?

Dane: Oh yeah, whether or not they’re going to be fulfilled is another thing. This last decade was one of major shifts. I started college in 2010, finished in 2015 with grad school. A lot of it was very youthful – figuring out who I am. It came with a lot of anxiety around not knowing what was going to happen next. This year, I just want to think less and do more. My first instinct is usually good but I don’t always follow it, and I need to trust myself more. 

Allie: Are there any places you want to travel to?

Dane: I haven’t really been outside the country, so my next big thing is international travel. Julie loves to travel and I’ve been along for the ride with her, which has been awesome. I’d love to go to a place that’s a little outside my comfort zone, somewhere where I’m not as familiar with the language and can get immersed in a culture that’s very unlike mine. I’d also love to continue to visit national parks, especially out west. The parks there are more beautiful than anything you can see in a picture. 

dane Allie: Do you have a favorite Jewish holiday?

Dane: I would say Passover, I really enjoy having people over for Passover, and all the food that we make. I come from a family of great cooks, where there was always plenty of good food to go around. My mom makes an unbelievable brisket for Passover and my dad also makes a great matzah ball soup. I’m also fascinated by Purim, but haven’t really celebrated it before. 

Allie: What’s something someone might be surprised to know about you?

Dane: I’m very introverted. I do not get my energy from being around people. I try very hard to be friendly, and I think people expect me to be more extroverted than I am. Julie and I have figured out that she is definitely more extroverted, whereas I am usually quite worn out after talking. 

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Dane: Hopefully it’s on M Street! 

dane

Meet Arianna: Jewish Traveler of the Week!

Have a suggestion for a Jewish Person of the Week? Email allisonf@gatherdc.org to nominate your friend, colleague, partner, or even yourself!

Arianna

Allie: How did you wind up living in the DC area?

Arianna: I was in college during the 2016 election and was pre-med. I was not politically active at the time, I was doing immunology research! I was able to go to the Hill to advocate for the NIH and was really moved by that experience: it seemed like staffers cared about what I had to say. After that experience, I moved to Los Angeles to intern for Senator Harris after I graduated. That brought me to my first-ever campaign, and I got bitten by the bug. After my fourth campaign in New York, I was exhausted; I wanted to be somewhere where I could be involved in politics, but not have to move around so much. So I ended up getting an internship on the Hill in DC. 

Allie: After going from pre-med to politics, do you still have an interest in the medical field?

Arianna: Yeah! I’m actually getting my Masters in Public Health and Health Policy from GW part-time while I work full-time. I’m still on a medical track and still very interested in medicine. Right now, it’s a time to keep being involved politically and that’s where my focus is. But I’ve always wanted to find a way to help people in a tangible way, and medicine makes it feasible to do this. I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon, to travel abroad and work with children.

Allie: Outside of work, are you a big traveler?

Arianna: I didn’t used to be. I did not study abroad in college. I went on one medical mission to Jamaica and then I went to Israel on Birthright. I’m so grateful I got to go on Birthright, it blew my mind. Once I started working, I didn’t really take anytime for vacations until this past year, when I went to Italy with my Nana. It was beautiful, and made me realize I wanted to start seeing places I’d always wanted to go to. So my friend Daria and I planned a trip to Bali. That was amazing. And after that, I was like “okay – where can I go next?!” 

Allie: So, where are you going next?

Arianna: I already have plans to go to Spain and Australia later this year. Australia has always been the number one place I wanted to go. I’ve always loved Outback Steakhouse. Right now I’m going alone, but I’m confident I can make friends along the way.

Allie: What else is on your travel bucket list?

Arianna: Ireland and Greece. I also really want to go to England, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine.

Allie: What excites you the most about traveling?

Arianna: The people you meet along the way. I never knew there was such a vast community of people out there who are kind of transient. It’s people our age who are taking time off, and paying their way by working at hostels or have saved up to travel for a few months. I met people who were traveling for 6 months and some up to 2 years!

arianna

Allie: Walk me through your dream DC day?

Arianna: I’d wake up, and then go for a long walk from Arlington to DC along the Mount Vernon Trail. I’d stop for a coffee somewhere. Then I’d go to the American History Museum because I love politics and history. Then, I’d walk past the old Newseum and pretend it’s not closed. I’d look at all the newspapers of the day. Then, I’d sit outside of the Capitol and read for a bit. Later on, I’ll head to dinner with some friends. I’d finish the day on the Pod Hotel’s rooftop.

Allie: Did you set any resolutions for 2020? 

Arianna: Well, one of my friends guilted me into signing up for the Chicago Marathon lottery – and I got picked! Once you get picked in the lottery, you are in. They charge you and it’s non-transferable. So, what I decided to do to prepare for the marathon is to run one race a month. I ran my January one on January 1st in DC. I have almost every month set up. I’m doing the Nashville half marathon for St. Jude’s in April. I’m not a huge runner by any means, but I do Orange Theory regularly and like running. I just started using the Nike run app to help with my training.

Allie: How do you stay so motivated?!

Arianna: 2018 was a really hard year for me and 2019 was a recovery year. In June 2018, we lost the election I was working on – so my job ended. My relationship ended, and I was supposed to move in with him. My lease was up. I kind of felt like everything was crumbling. I ended up moving to Arizona and was not happy there, so I moved home to New York. I started questioning everything and wondering if I should have stuck with the medical path. I finally moved to DC, but was living here for months without a job. My first six months in DC I hated it here. So, this past year has been a big rebuilding year for me. I forced myself to come to social events so I could make friends and build a community. I went to Gather events and JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference. I really want to get back to living the best version of myself.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Arianna: You learn a lot about yourself through others.

arianna

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Corey: Jewish Nats Fan of the Week!

corey

Allie: What brought you to the area?

Corey: I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and have several friends from high school who moved back to the area after college. We’ve maintained a core group of guys who have been close for 20+ years, and that combined with DC having job opportunities in my field brought me back here. I’ve also always liked DC, it has worldly people and is a nice balance size-wise.

Allie: Tell me about where your interest in working in politics came from.

Corey: My dad is a First Amendment lawyer, and growing up – he would always cut out clips from The Washington Post and put them on my breakfast table in the morning. I always had more to read than I could possibly take on. Little did I know, I’d have my name in The Washington Post one day as a spokesperson for a politically-active organization. But originally, I wanted to be a journalist. 

When I was an undergrad at Syracuse, I began to find my way when I interned for Chuck Schumer. I was a communications and constituent services intern, and really enjoyed seeing how government responds to people’s needs and how the media can drive attention to problems in the community. That set me in the direction of working in political communications. So when I graduated from Syracuse, I got a job with a campaign. Ultimately, I worked at a political media firm and today work in media relations for a legal services  organization that specializes in election law, the Campaign Legal Center

Allie: What is it like working for Campaign Legal Center?

Corey: I’ve been there since September 2016 – it’s been a time of great change. When I started there we were a staff of 16 full timers, and today we have a total of 53 staff. Being part of the maturation and growth of an organization has been the experience of a lifetime. The 2016 election was definitely awakening in many regards. As a result, more people see the need to fund democracy work because they are increasingly aware that our election system needs the proper infrastructure in order to protect people’s voting rights. That’s what is at stake when I go to work every day. 

Allie: Walk me through your perfect day in DC from start to finish.

Corey: If I could pick a perfect day, it would be to re-live the day the Nationals won the World Series. But that may only happen once in a lifetime. I love seeing Nats games and also like to watch basketball, hockey, and football. A good breakfast and early start is important. I’d have bacon, eggs, yogurt, a little coffee. A good workout helps me feel more alert and present. I’d enjoy a walk through the American History Museum or the National Portrait Gallery, since people in other cities don’t get to take advantage of what we have here in DC. Dinner would be sushi or steak. After, I’d have a big party with my friends. It would be a fancy, catered party maybe at The Monaco or The Willard.

corey

Allie: Are you a big Nationals fan?

Corey: Oh, yes. I was a day 1 fan of the Nationals when they came to DC in 2005. I take immense personal credit for their victory. Baseball was the first sport that I ever loved, I played through high school. Today, I play on a softball team through Beth El, which is the synagogue I grew up going to.

Allie: Do you have any resolutions for 2020?

Corey: One of the lessons my mom used to teach me was to not wish time away, and to appreciate the regular days more thoroughly. So, I want to appreciate Mondays more. Also, I’d really like to find something in the Jewish community to get involved with that fits my personality.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Corey: My grandma. Her optimism lights up a room. She’s always upbeat and is friends with everybody. She really appreciates people and takes time to get to know their name even if they are somebody she will likely never see again. She’s also a really good cook.

Allie: What’s your favorite way to relax at the end of a long work day?

Corey: I’m in a book club where we read fiction novels. Right now, we’re reading Midnight’s Children, which is really long! I also like watching and playing sports. 

Allie: When Jews of DC gather…

Corey: We respond with, “I know it’s a big school” when the person we are talking to at the event does not recognize the family friend’s name. Nevertheless, we proceed to list every name we know that went to the same college. When the person doesn’t know any of them, we proceed to find things in common about our shared knowledge of east coast suburbs.

corey

 

Have a suggestion for a Jewish Person of the Week? Email allisonf@gatherdc.org to nominate your friend. colleague, partner, or even yourself!

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

 

I’m Dreaming of a White Hanukkah

snowstorm

Last night I had a dream of a white…Hanukkah. I was back in Jerusalem and it was snowing on December 13th, my birthday. I woke up in the morning, snowflakes were falling from the window of my apartment on the second floor of building #5 in the Cvar Ha-studentim, and I thought “it’s going to be a great day!”.

I woke up and got ready for my Hebrew class. At the Hebrew University, the atmosphere was festive! Students were playing in the snow and throwing snowballs at each other. When I entered the classroom, I was redirected into a much bigger room where all the Rothberg (international) students were assembled to learn more about this holiday. A holiday that one too many people consider to simply be “a Christmas for Jews.” We learned about the history, and miracles and traditions of Hanukkah.

In my dream, the teachers were singing Hanukkah songs and teaching us the words. There were dreidels spinning at every corner of the room and chocolate coins. We finished the class earlier than usual and went to have lunch at the cafeteria.

In the afternoon – yes, this was a very long dream! – I went to the Old City Hanukkah tour I had registered for with my mom, who was visiting from Italy. I love the Old City, the crowds and the scents, the sensation of being in one of the holiest places in the world, the muezzin’s call to prayer, the sound of the shofar on Friday evening, the tourists crowding the Holy Sepulcher. It makes sense that in my Hanukkah dream I was in the Old City. 

My dream was so vivid that this morning I can still remember all of my feelings and impressions. With my university friends we went to see some Orthodox families lighting the 8 candles of the last day of Hanukkah. The most emotional thing was not looking at the candles, but at the faces of the kids brightening when the match lit the candles one by one, each candle not isolated, but adding more light to the previous one.

As a philosophy student, my brain wanted to add some philosophical moments to the Hanukkah dream. So, I dreamed of going to the house of a philosophy teacher and discussing miracles with him: what they are, their religiosity, and their superstitious meaning – all while eating some delicious sufganiot (jelly donuts) his wife had just made. These treats were the kind you can find only in Jerusalem: warm, fluffy, and sweet, with the powdered sugar falling all over your clothes. In my dream I picked the raspberry one, my favorite!

Afterwards, my dream brought me to the top of one of the Old City buildings, playing some Hanukkah trivia with my friends and using chocolate coins as prizes! I don’t remember much that happened during the game, but the view was phenomenal. Candles still burning in the entire quarter in hanukkiot small enough to be held by kids, and big to cover the length of a building: it was Christmas… on steroids!

My white Hanukkah dream ends with a walk in the snow in Mamillah, talking with my mom about the day that had just passed, and celebrating my birthday with a hot glass of sachlab. The snow is smooth under my feet and the sound of it feels like a lullaby to me. 

In my dream…

I have never really woken up from my dream – indeed I was never exactly dreaming, or at least not literally. I was more daydreaming. Or, more accurately, remembering. Remembering that wonderful day 10 years ago when I was living in Jerusalem, and it was Hanukkah, and Jerusalem was covered in snow, and it was my 25th birthday. They say dreams can come true, but sometimes I prefer to just bring the past back by day-dreaming about it!

Hanukkah sameach le culam!

 


 

About the Author: Daniela is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Top Eight Hanukkah Traditions for Washingtonians

As Adam Sandler famously said, “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah, so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah.”  Well. Yes it is funukkah to celebrate Hanukkah [in DC] and here are my top eight recommendations for how you can have your own funukkah: 

1:  Up your Insta Game at One of DC’s Holiday Pop-up Bars / Try the #Shotnorah

Selfie, selfie, take a selfie at any of the holiday pop-ups tracked online in dc.eater.com or attend PopVille favorite Ivy and Coney in Shaw as they transform in the month of December to the Chai-vy and Cohen-y Hanukkah Bar for the third straight year.  Go with seven other friends and take part in the #shotnorah, which is what you’d expect it to be from the description.  See it featured on The Today Show earlier this month.

2:  Attend the National Menorah Lighting at the White House (Sunday, Dec 22 @ 4 PM)

menorah

Thousands attend the National Menorah Lighting every year at The Eclipse in front of the White House.  Since 1974, a menorah has been lit on the mall. The National Menorah Council advertises theirs as the largest menorah in the world.  This year’s Menorah Lighting already passed, but make sure to add this to your must-do Hanukkah list for 2020!  

3:  Support HIAS at the 3rd Annual People’s Hanukkah Party at Casolare (Monday, Dec 23 @ 6:30 PM)

Several great organizations have come together to welcome the stranger, welcome the citizen, and welcome the light at the 3rd Annual People’s Hanukkah Party, which is a super foodie friendly event at Casolare Ristorante + Bar inside the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel.  

4:  Get your Falafel Frenzy on with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (Tuesday, Dec 24 @ 8:30 PM) 

falafel frenzy

Hanukkah Happy Hour: Havana Nights may be over as Dec 17, but it isn’t too late to enjoy some socializing with friends while supporting the charitable work of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington at the annual Falafel Frenzy at Mission Dupont.  I used to help organize this every year during my singles days and had a [falafel] ball every year!

 5:  Volunteer for D25 Before Getting your Chinese Food and Seeing a Movie (Wednesday, Dec 25)

Over 40 different projects are available on the December 25th Day of Service (D25), the Edlavitch DCJCC’s largest volunteer event of the year, to perform some good ol’ tikkun olam.  Repair the world by preparing/serving food for those in need, wrapping presents, donating blood, painting a school, and more! 

6:  End of Year Giving to Support Organizations Meaningful to You on Hanukkah

Donating time is one way to give back.  Making charitable gifts is another… About four years ago I started a new tradition to celebrate my end of year giving by recognizing eight different Jewish organizations that are meaningful to me and sharing on Facebook for each night of Hanukkah that I purchased an Israel bond and donated it to the charity that day.  I personally get a lot of meaning out of these double mitzvahs – as the bond purchase goes to the development of Israel and then when the bond matures, the interest and principal are paid out to the charities I selected on Hanukkah.

7:  Light the Menorah with Family Over FaceTime 

Hanukkah

My wife’s family has this great tradition where her sisters and their spouses all FaceTime each other, plus their parents, to light candles and sing Hanukkah songs.  They’re located in Boston, Cleveland, and Detroit – so this is a way for all of us to be together (virtually) on each night of Hanukkah.

8:  Embassy Hop to Attend a Multicultural Hanukkah Party

It’s a bit cliche, but hey – we’re DC – and many embassies will be hosting Hanukkah parties.  Work your network and get the invite(s) as it’s special to celebrate Hanukkah on foreign soil at embassies across the city.  One of my favorite DC memories was attending the Embassy of India Hanukkah party a few years ago. The Embassy of Israel one has always been a lot of fun.  I still have Morocco and a few others on my DC bucket list.


jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood, or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

DID JEW KNOW: You Can Celebrate Hanukkah Meaningfully as Adult

did jew know

One of the things I hear adults struggle with when it comes to Hanukkah is that it is largely a holiday for kids. It involves presents, dreidel games, chocolate coins, and some very interesting a capella remixes. And while of course adults can and do enjoy these kitchy aspects of the holiday, they may not necessarily engage us for long or at all (I mean, how many latkes can one eat over eight whole days? Have you actually tasted gelt?!). 

Plus, the story itself (as is often told to children) is rather simplistic when you think about it. A small band of righteous rebels defeat an evil empire and the oil of the menorah miraculously lasted for eight days when it should have just lasted for one. It makes for a great tale, but it might not hold the same meaning as we get older, when we realize that things usually aren’t so straightforward; be they about politics, war, theology, and even hope.  

For those of us in our 20s and 30s, what can Hanukkah mean to us now? How can we celebrate it in a way that is meaningful, relevant, and inspiring? 

This year, I ran a two-part “Hanukkah Deep-Dive” series for people asking this very question. We came up with a variety of ideas, which I’ll get to below. 

First, we studied ancient texts about Hanukkah, going back to where it all began, so to speak. Two main ideas stood out as having the potential to guide us to newly adapted mature Hanukkah, namely, how and where we light the Hanukkah candles. 

How to Light the Menorah

When it comes to Hanukkah traditions, perhaps the most substantial one we can revisit as adults is lighting the menorah. It’s beautiful, it’s got fire, it’s DIY, and its meaning runs deep. 

The ritual of how to light menorah began with the rabbis in the Talmud, a compilation of Jewish law and debate that was collected in the first couple of centuries, CE. This was long after the Maccabees had won the war and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem by the way. 

When it came to decide how to light the candles of the menorah, (the lingering piece of the Hanukkah story that could be done at home) two major scholars, Hillel and Shammai had a disagreement.

Shammai said that we should begin with eight candles on the first day and subsequently decrease the number of lights as the days go on until we only have one left.

Hillel on the other hand, said that we should begin with one candle and add one more each night until we have eight lights on the last day. The latter is the tradition we’ve come to observe. But, why? 

The reason given by the Talmud is that “One elevates in matters of sanctity rather than downgrades.”

In our class, we discussed how to make sense of this ritual from an emotional and psychological point of view. Hillel’s approach of adding light, many noticed, can help us feel a sense of movement from utter darkness to a place of increased brightness, presence, and visibility. It’s no wonder that Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, takes place during the darkest time of year. When it’s dark, we crave light, we crave seeing and being seen, we crave knowing that things can get better. Lighting the menorah Hillel’s way reminds us that it’s possible to find sources of light within and without, even in the midst of dark and scary times. 

By starting with just one light, we also acknowledge that the seeds of change can start out rather humbly, rather than showing up suddenly as a fiery blaze. It’s up to us to pause, notice the small light, and embrace its unassuming energy. By spreading the amount of light each day (literally and figuratively), we embody the idea that when we or someone else brings light into the world, it can quickly catch on and gain momentum. Our individual acts of love and kindness can spread to another, then another, and then another, which in turn, can turn into that fiery blaze of goodness. 

And even though most people in our class preferred Hillel’s approach, there were a few who preferred Shammai’s. After all, if the menorah in the ancient Temple was lit up, it would have had all of its branches on fire at once, with declining light as the days went on as the oil slowly ran low. Shammai’s approach seems to have been more of a reenactment of the miracle. But what’s inherent in his approach is that as much as darkness can make us feel alone, depressed, even afraid, this method underscores that moments of uncertainty can also contain holiness, unleashed potential.

His message was, “Don’t let fear drive you from what you don’t know or can’t yet see. Be patient and trust yourself.” 

Where to Light the Menorah

Realizing the relevance behind both of these messages, we connected them to the main mitzvah (commandment) of lighting the menorah, which we discussed at length. The mitzvah, according to the Talmud, is to light the menorah in a place where anyone can see it from the street, be it outside our homes or on a windowsill. The main goal is to publicize the miracle and not just keep it to ourselves. 

When it comes to what the miracle actually was or represents, there are different ways one can see it. At the heart of it, is that the Maccabees, who had no reason to believe that there would be enough oil to last more than one day, decided to light the menorah with what they had anyway. Maybe they were naive, maybe desperate. Both are possible. But regardless, they decided better to have some light in the world than no light at all. And with that one decision, they were met with unexpected result. 

For some, putting the menorah in a window or entrance to one’s home (or online) is about exercising religious freedom and showing up proudly as Jews and that’s important. It can also be about spreading hope to those who need it most, regardless of background. It can be sharing light with those who are outside in the dark and see our lights within and those of us lighting the candles within who can share them with others. But, more than anything, we should make sure we are actually living out the message behind this ritual every day. Then, I think we’ve reclaimed Hanukkah as adults for our time. 

How to Live the Message of the Menorah

  • Do a selfless act of kindness for different friends and strangers each day of the holiday and reflect on it with others. 
  • Reach out to people you don’t know well, who you’ve been meaning to reach out to like a neighbor or new co-workers, even invite them to a Hanukkah gathering. Invite them into conversation about hope and rededication, or different familial traditions and heritages. 
  • Since Hanukkah is about rededicating sacred space (Hanukkah means dedication), rededicate yourself to something or someone that is sacred to you. How can you uplift that part of your life this year? Get a group of friends together and share your goals, see how you can support one another in your rededications. 

If you have any questions about the above or want more ideas on how to make Hanukkah more inspiring to you as an adult – email me at rabbi.ilana@gatherdc.org. Wishing you a very happy, as well as meaningful and relevant, Hanukkah.


 

ilana

About the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and creating real and meaningful connections with them. When Rabbi Ilana isn’t officially Gathering, she can be found cooking in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on hikes, desperately searching for good pizza in DC (seriously, help her find some!) and watching a lot of tv.

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Julia R. – Future Jewish Talk Show Host of the Week

Julia Ring (not to be confused with last week’s Jewish Julia of the Week) dreams of one day becoming a talk show host, embarking on the ultimate Italian adventure, and a future where better frozen dessert options exist in DC. Get to know this fun-loving, energetic, extroverted woman!

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Allie: How did you wind up living in DC?

Julia R: I went to the University of Maryland and stuck around after graduating. I think it’s a really good sized city, but there’s still lots to do – I felt very comfortable here. For the past two years, I’ve been working at an online tech company, 2U.

Allie: What would be your dream career?

Julia: My dream, dream job would be to be a talk show host, like to have Ellen’s job. 

Allie: Walk me through your perfect day in DC.

Julia: I love when you have a Sunday and the timing of everything works out perfectly. In the morning, I’d do a workout class – probably Flywheel or 305 Fitness. Then, I’d get breakfast at the Dupont Farmers’ Market. I’d walk around with a friend and get coffee. In the later afternoon, I’d go see an improv show. After that, I’d get dinner at a restaurant that I really like, maybe Farmers and Distillers. I’d like to get a frozen dessert somewhere, but there really is a lack of good ice cream options in the city. That’s my number one gripe with DC.

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Allie: Is improv something you like to just watch, or do you also do it?

Julia: I’m taking improv with the Washington Improv Theater, that’s been really fun. I did improv stuff in high school and I had the most fun. The WIT class became a great way to meet new people as an adult. I feel like after college we have few opportunities to learn something new and get better at, and this was a chance to do that. I would also get to put my phone away for two and a half hours, which is a rarity in this day in age. Some people from my old class are forming an indie improv team and I might join it. I’m not that good though, I’d like to put that on the record! 

Allie: Do you have any resolutions for 2020?

Julia: I want to be better at planning trips. I really like traveling, but am not great about planning them. My timing always seems to be off. I’d love to go to a few national parks. I want to go to Acadia, Arches, the parks around Sedona. I also really want to plan a Europe trip. Italy has been number one on my list for a long time.

julia ringAllie: What is your favorite Hanukkah tradition?

Julia: I realize that my love language is gift-giving. I’m just like my mom and we are both always on the hunt for presents to give to friends. I’m a big board games person and want to get some people fun games.

Allie: When Jews of DC gather…

Julia: There is really good and stimulating conversation.

julia dc

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A New Jew’s Guide to Navigating the Holidays

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate the holidays.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge, but I don’t care for the cold, the stress, and the mounting pressure to find those around me the perfect gift. Once, the illusion of Santa Claus was ruined for me when my childhood best friend told me it was my parents, not Santa Claus, bringing us presents. The image of my parents sneaking down on Christmas Eve to pull presents out of their year-long hiding places just ruined it for me.

The year 2018 marked a major changing point in my life: I was mid-conversion to Judaism and found the holidays were fast approaching. I was overwhelmed and unsure how to navigate the opposing traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah. I was preoccupied with and torn on the following questions:

“Should I skip Christmas to prove my commitment to my conversion?”

“Will my non-Jewish family, friends, and coworkers understand if I don’t participate in Christmas?”

“Will my newly adopted Jewish family, friends, and Rabbis understand if I do participate in Christmas?”

When you think about it, Christmas around the world is not just one day. Christmas is celebrated for almost two months here in the United States (sorry, Thanksgiving!). We have elf on the shelf, Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas, and let’s not forget that Starbucks releases their Holiday cups and menu in early November. There was no escaping Christmas for me—I could not go into a mall, turn on the TV/radio, or even walk down the street without having Christmas shoved in my face.

I was struggling to come to terms with all that I would be leaving behind. My lifelong holiday memories centered around my family’s Christmas traditions. I’ll never forget my grandparent’s annual Christmas Eve party filled with the maternal and paternal sides of family as well as neighbors and longtime family friends. Another tradition that stood out to me was receiving a new ornament from my mother each year and the resulting fights with my sisters. We fought to ensure our ornament had prime real estate on the Christmas tree, which meant front and center for us. Most recently during the Christmas holiday, my family would share mimosas and reminisce on how my grandparents always gave us the same socks, scarves and kitchen gadgets, year after year.

Christmas was never about religion in my family. There was no Jesus in a manger or midnight Mass, so why was I flooded with so many questions from others? I was questioned on how my family was dealing with my conversion and if I was going to skip Christmas celebrations with them. The questioning crowd would greet me with raised eyebrows and looks of confusion when all I managed to muster was, “I don’t know yet.” And at the time, I didn’t have answers to their questions.

Was it a big deal if I celebrated Christmas with my family, or was I destined to eat Chinese food and attend the movies on the 25th of December?  All I knew at the time was that I did not have the answers figured out for myself, which meant I surely didn’t know how to respond to the well-intended questions from others.

I decided to contact two Rabbis whom I trust: Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein who oversaw my conversion class and Rabbi Evan Krame who oversaw my conversion. Rabbis Bernstein and Krame made it clear that celebrating Christmas did not make me any less Jewish. They reminded me that I decided to convert to Judaism, but my family did not. Their wise and comforting counsel let me relinquish the shame I felt about wanting to celebrate Christmas with my family. I found the courage and space to have both Christmas and Hanukkah traditions in my life; I did not have to sacrifice one set of traditions for the other. Ultimately, I was reassured that if my decision was good enough for the Rabbis in my life, then it was also good enough for me and everyone around me.

If you are converting or newly converted, I am not here to tell you how you should or shouldn’t celebrate the holidays during and/or after your conversion to Judaism. Conversion is a personal process and you must trust yourself and your gut instincts. What I do suggest is that you articulate to your family and friends that you are navigating new and exciting traditions and ask them to be more supportive and less judgmental until you figure out what being Jewish means to you. Follow the path that gives you the greatest peace of mind and ask for acceptance and tolerance from the Jews and Christians around you

It is 2019 and my apathy for the holidays has not diminished; however, I feel immense gratitude to be able to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah with those I love. I am confident in my decision to adopt holiday traditions from both faiths. I enjoy finding ways to merge my old Christmas identity with my new identity as a Jew. This year I hosted a Tacky Sweater Party and represented my Jewish faith by wearing a Hanukkah sweater. I also teamed with my office to adopt underprivileged kids for Christmas. Most importantly, I will spend the holiday season with both of our families, indulging in all that Christmas and Hanukkah have to offer (which means loads of Christmas cookies and latkes!).

hanukkah sweater

Jillian Stringer (left) at her Tacky Holiday Sweater Party

PS…If you are a latke expert, please share your recipes!

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About the Author: Jillian Stringer is an account executive in the Intellectual Property sector by day and food/wine enthusiast by night. When she’s not wedding planning or working, she can be found cooking or playing mahjong and canasta. She lives in DC along with her fiancé and their house plants. 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Celebrating Chrismukkah

chrismukkah

Chrismukkah is an indecisive person’s dream.

There’s no “or” involved when it comes to decorations, presents, food, music, any of it – you just get to have it all. Trees and menorahs, one big morning and eight little nights, gingerbread and latkes. Chrismukkah takes the most fun parts of Christmas and Hanukkah, doubles the December stress, and makes for one uber holiday.

The O.C. Invents Chrismukkah

Interfaith families have been celebrating the two-for-one Christmas-Hanukkah combo for some time now, but the holiday wasn’t officially dubbed “Chrismukkah” until Seth Cohen on The O.C. made the concept famous back in 2003.

You can make fun of the early aughts teen drama for a lot of reasonsridiculous, melodramatic storylines, villains that had frosted tips and wore puka shells, and Mischa Barton’s acting skills. But Chrismukkah? Pure genius.

I love The O.C. for all of its iconic pop culture moments, and I’m also kind of weirdly grateful for it. When I first discovered reruns of the show back in ninth grade, I saw how Seth Cohen embraced his own “brand” of Judaism. This depiction helped me define how I experienced my own religion. Sure, he was a fictional character, but he was also one of the only people I’d seen at that point who was raised the same way I was, with one Jewish parent and one Christian parent.

Celebrating Chrismukkah Growing Up

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Chrismukkah, 2001

I grew up in a southern college town with a tiny Jewish population. I could count on one hand the amount of other Jewish kids I knew from school, and my family’s involvement with the local Jewish community was fairly nonexistent. My parentsmy mom’s family is Jewish, my dad’s family is Christiandecided to raise my brother and me without much structured religion, but we definitely identified as Jewish. 

I struggled a lot with what that religious identity truly meant, though. I often felt not-Jewish-enough to be a part of the Jewish community, and I didn’t fit in with the evangelical Christian population that made up a lot of my school. When I saw the “Chrismukkah” episodes of The O.C., it gave me a simple way to explain to people what my experience was like, not just with the holidays, but with religion in general. As trivial as it sounds, I was able to accept that enjoying my Christmas decorations and watching Christmas movies on repeat doesn’t lessen the strength of my Jewish identity.

The O.C. calls Chrismukkah “the greatest super holiday known to mankind,” which is over the top, and also pretty fitting for how seriously they take it. In the second season, the “yamaclaus,” a Santa Claus-themed yarmulke is introduced (which, by the way, is a great Chrismukkah gift if you’re short on time and money this year). 

For me, my family celebrated Hanukkah every year, as well as the secular aspects of Christmas. As most Jewish people know, Hanukkah became a big deal culturally simply because it happens to coincide with Christmas. But in the Hilton-Glicksberg household, this meant we had an entire month of holidays. Menorahs, stereotypical Chinese food, a movie on Christmas, Santa, stockingsthe whole thing. 

My Relationship with Chrismukkah Today

I took for granted the extra work involved for my parents trying to juggle two holidays. But, as I got older, I appreciate the time and effort they both put into sharing their favorite traditions with my brother and me. Some of my strongest childhood memories revolve around celebrating Chrismukkah, which is why I, like Seth Cohen, love it so much. 

My relationship with Judaism continued to evolve as I’ve moved around to different cities and met new people. But, my first introduction to Judaism will always be with Hanukkah. Now, as an adult and living far away from my family, Chrismukkah is a lot more toned down, and there’s less novelty surrounding the marathon event. Yet, this hybrid holiday with the funny name is more meaningful than ever. 

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elena hiltonAbout the author: Elena Hilton is a communications consultant specializing in guiding nonprofits and purpose-driven organizations. Her writing and reporting has been published in Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Glamour. In her free time, Elena can be found kayaking, cheering on the Florida Gators, or volunteering with Horton’s Kids

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.